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BY ANDY HUMM | The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission will, this week, begin consideration of landmark designation for the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, site of the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 that sparked the modern L.G.B.T. rights movement.
If approved, it would represent the first such designation from the commission exclusively for a site’s significance to the L.G.B.T. community.
At its Tues., June 2, meeting, the commission considered whether to schedule a public hearing on the matter.
In a written statement to Gay City News, Downtown Express’ sister paper, Meenakshi Srinivasan, the L.P.C. chairperson, said, “The Stonewall Inn is widely known as the birthplace of the modern L.G.B.T. rights movement and holds a truly iconic place in history. In addition to its cultural importance, the building still retains its architectural integrity from its period of significance during the Stonewall Rebellion.
“I am proud to bring the Stonewall Inn before the full commission to be considered for designation as an individual and official landmark of New York City — a worthy site that symbolizes one of the most important events in L.G.B.T. history for not only New York City, but for the entire country. Recommending Stonewall Inn’s designation represents the Landmark Preservation’s Commission’s commitment to honor New York’s unique and diverse cultural, social and political heritage.”
Local politicians and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation have been pressing for the designation for years — with increased urgency more recently with sights on the 50th anniversary in 2019.
Gay City Councilmember Corey Johnson, whose district includes the Stonewall, said in reaction to the development, “Wow! It’s shocking that in 2015 the Stonewall Inn was never recognized as an individual landmark given its hugely important symbolism and history. L.P.C. recognition is stronger than federal or state recognition. It brings with it more protection.”
The designation would apply only to the Stonewall’s exterior. For a time after the bar closed in the 1970s, a bagel shop and pottery store occupied the spaces before a bar resumed operating in one of the storefronts. While the new bar appears to be thriving, there has been discussion in recent years of its possible use as a national L.G.B.T. history museum.
Gay State Sen. Brad Hoylman, whose district also takes in the Stonewall and has, as well, pressed for the designation.
He said he would also like to see the site designated by executive order as a national park by Barack Obama. The president mentioned Stonewall in his 2013 inaugual address.
The street outside the bar, where the rebellion lasted for several days and nights in June of 1969, was named Stonewall Place by the city in 1989. A George Segal sculpture of gay and lesbian couples called “Gay Liberation” in Christopher Park across the street was dedicated in 1992. The Stonewall Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and is listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places.
But the city had previously balked at individual landmark status since the Stonewall is already within the Greenwich Village Historic District, which was designated in April 1969, two months before the Stonewall made history. The historic district designation report creating the district, as a result, makes no mention of the rebellion. Individual landmark designation for the Stonewall now would preserve those remaining architectural features that it possessed in June 1969.
Andrew Berman, leader of the Village preservation society, which spearheaded the landmarking fight for years, called the latest development “fantastic news.”
Berman said that the Stonewall’s interior is not up for landmark status since it has been modified since 1969.
“But we don’t want it to become a Starbucks or a nail salon,” he said. “We and others are looking to make sure that it remains a place that speaks to the history of the L.G.B.T. rights movement.”
Lesbian Assemblymember Deborah Glick, whose district includes the West Village, said, “It has been a good year for gay people, with the Irish voting for love and now the city administration finally recognizing a key location for the L.G.B.T. community. It’s a start.”
She said that the Wooster St. Firehouse, where the Gay Activists Alliance housed its community center in the early 1970s, is in many ways “more compelling.” And she said that “there are sites of gay clubs in Harlem that are far more meaningful because it is where people –– particularly African-American people –– had their early gay identification.”
Despite the strong community support for the contemplated designation, at least some of those who participated in the Stonewall Rebellion balk at a special status for the bar. One of them, Village activist Jim Fouratt, recently made public a letter he wrote to the National Parks Conservation Association on the issue.
“I very strongly support the designation of the Sheridan Square park [Christopher Park] becoming a national park and designated a historical landmark because of what happened that night in the street in front of the Stonewall Inn,” Fouratt wrote. “I am very opposed to designating a business that was run by organized crime in contempt of the law and with the knowledge of the local police force as a symbol of Lesbian and Gay liberation. It is a private business still in operation. To me it is a symbol of oppression and not liberation. It would be appropriate to mark the street location as the spark that set off a series of events that forever changed the visibility and fight for equality for lesbians and gay men of all gender expression throughout the world.”
Councilmember Johnson, for one, has a very different perspective on the bar.
“The first time I visited New York City in 2000 — the year before I moved here — the first place I wanted to go was the Stonewall Inn,” he said. “I stood outside. I was just 18. I felt like a deep connection to this place that I had read and heard so much about. To now be the councilmember representing this district and have a chance to vote on it is incredibly meaningful and special.”
On Facebook, John O’Brien, a longtime gay activist and historian — and, like Fouratt, a participant in the Stonewall Rebellion who was active in the Gay Liberation Front that emerged from it — praised the move toward landmarking the Stonewall.
“Like many such landmarks, whether around wars, revolutions, or other sites that were the scene of important history, the actual previous usage of the site is not the essential consideration, but what a site came to represent,” he wrote.
Tree, a 76-year old bartender at the Stonewall “off and on for 45 years” who was at the Stonewall the day the rebellion broke out, said, “This makes us feel great. It’s about time.”
Duell Management, which owns the Stonewall, did not return a call for comment.